Wallonia lands our pandas

China and Belgium have struck a deal on the loaning of two giant pandas to the Pairi Daiza animal park in Brugelette near Ath in Wallonia. The news is a blow to Antwerp Zoo that had hoped to bring the pandas to Flanders. Xinhui ('Sparkling Star'), the male panda, and Haohao ('Sweet'), the female panda, are only 4 years old. Premier Elio Di Rupo:"The arrival of the pandas will show the bond of trust between our two nations."

Xinhui ('Sparkling Star'), the male panda and Haohao ('Sweet'), the female panda are only 4 years old. Pairi Daiza will construct an ultra-modern accommodation in its Chinese garden that was purpose-built for the arrival of the pandas. The park mirrors the landscape of the Chinese province of Sichuan.

The Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has confirmed that the pandas will be on loan to Belgium for a decade and a half. Usually pandas are only loaned out for ten years.

Belgian Premier Elio Di Rupo is currently touring China:"The arrival of the pandas will be an honour for Belgium. It shows the bond of trust between our two nations."

The Pairi Daiza Park that celebrates its 20th anniversary next year has said that a contract has already been signed. The arrival of the pandas will coincide with special themed events devoted to the flora, fauna and culture of China.

The pandas remain the property of the Chinese, but it is hoped that they will be able to mate here. The pandas are being accompanied by a Chinese team that will hope to maximise the couple's chances of procreation.

The coming of the pandas also triggered some controversy. Flemish Premier Kris Peeters is also in China at the moment and there were hopes in some circles that the animals could end up in Flanders rather than Wallonia. The Belgian Premier has been accused of promoting a park in his own region without taking account of any 'objective criteria'. There is speculation that the matter could be raised in parliament. Flemish Premier Peeters intends to discuss the matter with Elio Di Rupo, but added: "I have no need of a panda row."